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Energy and Day 5 of No Impact Week

January 6, 2011

So… here I am on my computer talking about reducing my energy impact. Ha! After I stopped laughing, I looked around and started tallying the number of electronics we have plugged in that are constantly leeching power. The microwave, the refrigerator/freezer, the coffee pot, two digital alarm clocks, two VCRs, two DVD players, the CD player, and the chargers for our cell phones (we don’t have a land-line). Other energy users – water heater, two TVs, satellite receiver, stereo (including a separate tuner and a tape deck), two desktop computers (they’re on a block that gets fully turned off at night), my 7 yr old laptop (which is positively ancient in computer years – but is rarely plugged in), washer and dryer, furnace, and various floor lamps throughout the house (to combat the lack of overhead lighting in most of the rooms), and two vacuum cleaners.

The 3-level house we rent was not designed to be energy friendly, and over the 30-some years since it’s construction, it’s become even less so. The front and back doors have gaps where the house settled, and left slight gaps around the door. The upper floor has a swamp cooler installed on the roof, dropping the nighttime temperatures into the upper 50s – which we don’t mind, but it still signifies an energy leak. The thermostat on the forced-air heating is old (regulating temperature is an approximation), as is the whole system, but at least the registers are on the floor. Down in the basement (one section of which is fully finished, the other half only partially finished) is where our computers and entertainment system reside, as does my work area for papercrafting and the laundry area/lego-building area. The fully finished portion has two canister lights on a dimmer switch, and a torchiere I added to my workspace for more light, as well as my Ott-light desklamp. The torchiere and desklamp are only on when I’m working. In the laundry room/lego room there are two overhead light fixtures with daylight CFLs and one Ott floorlamp. Most of the light fixtures in our house don’t currently have CFLs in them, some because they won’t fit, some because we don’t use the lights for that long. We’re going to look at what light options are available, and what will fit our needs. We might even switch over to some of the LED bulbs, since they’ll be even more cost-effective than the CFLs and are sturdier, without the worry of mercury.

The computers are on most of the day – keeping in touch with faraway friends and family, blogging, playing games, reading and researching. But we’ve renewed our commitment to making sure that we turn them and the tv off during dinner. Dinner at the table is always a great time for catching up, life-learning questions, and just in general talking about whatever comes to mind. We sometimes find ourselves distracted by the computers or whatever show is currently lined up for showing, and dinner becomes very catch-as-catch can, which is not what we want for our family. We like the time together, visiting, without the electronic distractions. I might have to see if I can find some beeswax candles so we can have candlelight dinners – which makes for a fun way to spend the evening.

Our coffee-pot, which gets used every morning can be unplugged right after the brewing cycle is finished – it brews into a carafe that keeps it warm without any extra power being used. Our computers, which are newer models, and thus take virtually no time to start up can be powered down during the day when I’m doing stuff in the kitchen or outside. We’ve been trying to keep the lights down in the basement, or turning on the torchiere next to my desk, since it’s one light and not two (like the ones on the dimmer). We can plug in our cellphone chargers only when we’ve actually got the phones on them. We can make sure that our electronics that are always on (like the ones in perpetual stand-by mode) are plugged into power strips with an on/off switch so that we can actually shut them off. We’re trying to figure out how to cover the swamp cooler vent in the ceiling, so that during the winter months we don’t lose heat through it. One of the alarm clocks needs to be on always, but the other clock can be switched to battery operated and used with rechargeable batteries… or perhaps find a different type altogether. Little things, each one by itself, but when added up they become a larger whole in creating a smaller impact.

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